Ok, so if I’m honest Hoi An was the highlight of Vietnam for me* (the disclaimer here being that my trip to Sapa was completely rained out, so I reserve the right to update this later).
The most stunning town/city, everything in walking distance (pretty much), and so much to see and do. The architecture is blend of French, Chinese, Japanese and of course Vietnamese, terracotta tiles and bright stuccoed buildings. It’s the sort of town/city you could just chill out in for four days or four weeks. Plenty of bars and restaurants, not far from a beach (if a few days on the coast tickles your fancy), great coffee, a market (actually two), what more could you want?
Ok, I didn’t mention shopping. I’m a guy. If you said “people watching over a couple of beers, or a couple of hours wandering through a market?” I would actually be sitting down sipping a cold beer before you could even finish the question. But that being said, there were more tailors and cobblers in Hoi An than you could wave your credit card at (I’m actually not sure that that makes sense, but why would you poke a stick at them?).
Ok, so I mentioned restaurants. The food here is absolutely spectacular, and so many different dishes to choose from. To thoroughly sample them, you would actually need four weeks. Two of my favourites (ok three because I’m going to throw a cheeky one in) were : Morning Glory Restaurant (Mrs Vy actually has an amazing restaurant just up the road from us in Prahran, Australia – House of Hoi An) – try the pork stuffed squid; and Cargo Club – stunning meals as well and beautiful outlook over the river. So the third favourite was a cheeky little cafe serving amazing Banh mi – Banh Mi Phuong.
But its not all about food. There’s coffee as well. For good coffee try Hoi An Roastery a little up market but very nice. However, my favourite was a little hidden gem called Mia Coffee. Just out of the old town, past the fish markets on Phan Boi Chau, its a beautiful relaxed setting. Bring a good book and just chill out, before setting out to explore the old town.
The Japanese bridge is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Hoi An. It’s a beautiful covered timber bridge built on stone pillars. It has a Taoist temple in it that is quite small but very charming. Like most attractions venturing onto the bridge is only half of the experience, take a walk along the river and view the bridge from there. Also worth checking out is the Fukian Assembly Hall (Phuc Kien) built as a place where residents from Fujian in China could meet. Inside you will find the Jingshan Golden Mountain Temple – effectively a maritime temple dedicated to Thien Hau goddess of the sea and caretaker of sailors.
If sitting around and ingesting all this amazing food seems a little self-indulgent (not that I’m judging), you can organise to take in a cooking class for yourself. Our group did a small cooking class while on a farm visit. The farm visit was great fun, and after ‘helping’ plant out a small patch, we made our own rice paper rolls and enjoyed them with a beer. You know what they say about a “hard earned thirst”.
For our second cooking class experience, we spent the morning in the able hands of the ‘Red Bridge Cooking Class’ learning to produce fine Vietnamese delicacies. It was a very enjoyable day that included market tours as well as the cooking class however several months on (and I did buy the packets of Chinese 5 spice, and the special knife – which I was sure was going to be the key to mastering Vietnamese cooking), and I’m yet to put those skills to use back home. Meh what are ya gonna do?
One little thing I did do while sitting around people watching on Bach Dang, right on the river, was jump on a little row boat and take a trip down the river with a lovely old couple. It was a great just sitting back and floating up and down the river, stopping only to take a few pics of the man and his wife. Next I might try a cart pulled by a cow, we’ll see.
So that kind of sums up Hoi An. It may not sound overly eventful, but that was the beauty of this quaint little city in central Vietnam. There was just so much fine dining, sipping coffee, beer and cocktails and general sitting around to do here in Hoi An. In a word – “Peaceful”
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*This trip was part of a tour I hosted with the awesome Australian tour company, Two’s A Crowd